LIVE Q&A with “Saving the Animals of Ukraine” Filmmakers

22 May 2024 Off By Bambam

Natalia Popova, wild animal rescuer, and her dog make their rounds at an animal shelter in the Kyiv region. Credit: Anton Ptushkin / © VSE Sam LLC & Dogs of War Productions Inc.

Following the premiere of Saving the Animals of Ukraine on May 15, NATURE hosted a special LIVE post-premiere Q&A with the filmmakers. NATURE executive producer Fred Kaufman moderated a panel with the film’s director Anton Ptushkin and executive producer Elliott Halpern. The panel is still available to stream here on YouTube.

Below are some of our favorite moments from the panel:

Anton, looking back on what you worked on, how challenging was it to film? These are difficult stories. You’re in a war zone, it’s dangerous. Logistics are complicated. What was the experience like producing this film?

(Anton Ptushkin) It was quite challenging. But you know, I didn’t feel that it was kind of that dangerous, but you know, the biggest threat for me was electricity shortages. I remember right now, vividly remember, because you know, back then it was winter 2022-23, it was really like we ran out of electricity because Russians, they kinda destroyed our electricity, you know, supplies chains, and facilities that produce electricity. And I remember, I found myself in my studio running my generator in order to, you know, just to edit, you know, just to edit this documentary. So yeah, it was quite challenging.

This could’ve been a really difficult, unpleasant experience watching this film. But this film did a really good job of threading the needle, and while it is a tough watch, it’s so inspiring with extraordinary people.

(Elliott Halpern) Yeah, I think that we really, from the beginning, set out to make a film that would be an uplifting film and a positive film that, you know, I mean, war itself, as terrible as it is, it also brings out great, great virtue because it’s only in the test of things like that, of when you’re testing people like the Ukrainian people are being tested, that they rise to kind of extraordinarily heroic heights. And we wanted to make a positive film. We wanted to engage with viewers who are probably saturated with stories about war, and this war in particular, and reach people in a different way and in a positive way about about why it is we thought that we should be admiring the people who were engaged in Ukraine and fighting this terrible war. And that’s, I think, what our whole aim was.

I’m curious just how migration routes have been impacted by the war.

(Anton Ptushkin) I think that we still don’t know how they impacted because, you know, just a small reminder that the war still going, and a lot of areas of Ukraine are under occupation of Russia. So certain nature reserves. They are under occupation. So we don’t know what is happening there. And according to this Odesa region, so this scientist, he said that you know, this migration routes has been kinda impacted, severely impacted by this war. So I think that there’s a lot to come, unfortunately, and it’s not gonna be good news. I think that in an environment like this, Russia is committing ecocide. We have to clearly understand that Russia is committing ecocide, and the consequences of this ecocide are totally uncertain at the moment.

How did you choose who to feature? The Kyiv Zoo has a dramatic story also.

(Anton Ptushkin) We actually shot Kyiv Zoo, and I’ve been there many times. And it has a really interesting story because zoos became kind of shelters… A lot of people brought snakes or lizards to the zoos to kind of keep them alive. So yeah, that was interesting. And we actually, we kind research, you know, how this PTSD works on lions via Kyiv Zoo. And I was in Nikolaev Zoo, which was severely shelled many times. So asking me questions like how we choose who to feature, frankly, we shot 85 hours of raw footage. So it was a really hard decision, you know, and we have a lot of stories that unfortunately, you know, it’s just impossible to cover in a one-hour-long documentary. So I think that we just like, we chose the most powerful ones. What do you think?

(Elliott Halpern) Yeah, I think that was ours, we wanted to choose the most powerful and the most representative stories for the film. And you know, we’re always looking at it not just as a collection of small stories but how it’s going to play into a narrative arc that spans the entire film. So, you know, those were the kinds of hard decisions we had to make all along in the edit.

Why did Nature decide to do this film?

(Fred Kaufman) This is an interesting story because it’s not really a nature film. There’s no natural history really to speak of. It’s really more about people. And the quick answer to that is, and I know Elliott will get a kick out of it because when it was sent to me, I really had no intention of doing it. I just thought there was too much horror going on in that country, and to spend an hour on the animals there, I just, I was not comfortable with the idea. And I really felt rather firm in my decision but had a call with Elliott and his partner, Elizabeth, and told them that it was just not right for us and gave them the courtesy of responding. And something in that call, and I’m not sure what it was, but I completely flipped from not planning on doing this film and graciously getting out of this conversation with them to realizing we must do the film, that there was no way we could not tell this story. Granted, it’s not kind of a wildlife documentary, but it deserves to be seen and heard, and I think it’s gonna be very impactful. Elliott, anything you wanna add to that?

(Elliott Halpern) No, we were so pleasantly surprised, Fred, by the fact that, you know, we all knew that it wasn’t a classic Nature and that you had that reaction and that you were moved to give it the incredible showcase that Nature provides. So yeah, no, it was an amazing, amazing thing when you said yes, where we felt like it was a very, very long shot, so yeah, it’s incredible.

Still interested in learning more? Watch the full panel here.

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